Monday, October 1, 2012

BAB Frightfest: Monster of Frankenstein 1

Monster of Frankenstein #1 (January 1973)
"Mary Shelley's Frankenstein!"
Gary Friedrich-Mike Ploog

Doug:  Welcome to October, boys and girls, where we hope to provide a little monstrous fun on your five Mondays.  Karen suggested we use the Marvel Firsts books and do a series on some of our favorite Bronze Age horror stars.  We're kicking it off today with the Frankenstein Monster, and following up with the Tomb of Dracula, Werewolf by Night, the Living Mummy, and then a B&W beauty we've not yet chosen -- could be Morbius, or Tigra...  we shall see!

Karen: The Marvel Firsts are certainly a great source for early Marvel horror. The only problem is, they make me want to go out and get the following issues!

Doug:  We open in the Arctic Circle in 1898 where the explorer Robert Walton IV leads an expedition.  After leaving their cargo ship, what appears to be a brief walk later brings them to their target -- the frozen body of the Monster of Victor Frankenstein!  While Walton is inwardly giddy, he understands that his men do not share his enthusiasm and he is watchful of their nerves -- even the potential for mutiny -- as the men begin to hack the creature from the ice.  Soon, a force which they cannot control may be loosed on their ship.  Fear indeed.  As night falls, Walton orders the men to rest; an Eskimo among them offers to stand watch through the night; Walton tells him to be aware.  But as Canute succumbs to the brutal temperatures, a surprise ice crack snaps him back to consciousness; his warning come too late, though, as half of the crew is lost or killed in the natural calamity.  Walton wonders to himself if he's allowed his obsession with finding the Monster ruin his judgement; but his men know the path they wish to take.  One of the crew begins to chop wildly at the block encasing the Monster.  When Canute moves to stop him, he's struck down and nearly murdered before Walton intervenes.  The mutiny quelled, Walton orders the men to move the huge ice block onto the ship.

Karen: I'm curious why Friedrich - or really, I suspect, Roy Thomas -decided to set the story in 1898, about a hundred years after the original Frankenstein novel. The more obvious choices would have been to set it in the time of the book, or to set it in modern times. Of course, the series would eventually be moved into the modern day -which might have been a big mistake, in my opinion. Thomas did say, in Comic Book Artist #13, that he was pleased with this adaptation of the book, and he wished he could have done it himself, but didn't have the time.

Doug:  I agree with you about the temporal setting -- what about the turn of the 20th century would scream "story possibilities!", as opposed to the turn of the 19th, in Europe?  Once the Monster is aboard (still in ice), it's placed in Walton's cabin.  A young sailor tends to the explorer and inquires of the creature inside the ice.  Walton, fearing "ruining" the young man with the truth, shrugs it off and tells him about the Monster anyway.  We then get an adaptation of the Shelley "origin" story of the so-called Frankenstein Monster".  We learn that the aspiring scientist Victor Frankenstein left his family and friends to attend the University of Geneva.  Frankenstein excelled in his studies, earning the praise of his professors.  But if there was one knock on the young man, it was his impatience.  And when the unit on human cadavers began...

Karen: If my memory is correct, most of this follows the book pretty well. I want to say that Ploog's art is just fantastic. He is certainly an illustrator -by this, I mean I could see his art inside magazines or books. It was really unusual for comics. He brings a wonderfully detailed and evocative look. I could also easily see him drawing a western story, or war story... I don't think I really appreciated him when I was younger, but I love his stuff now.

Doug:  Again, I agree with you -- Mike Ploog's pictures completely complement Gary Friedrich's words.  This is a wonderful collaboration.  By the end of Frankenstein's third year of university, he felt he'd outgrown the knowledge of his professors.  Victor Frankenstein began to rob bodies -- from graves, the gallows, anywhere he could find a newly-deceased person without bodily damage.  And he began to hoard these bodies in his personal laboratory, having dropped out of college altogether.  After six months of labor, he was ready to prove himself.  Unlike in the films, in this story Victor Frankenstein used injections to attempt to bring life to his creature.  Alas, seemingly having failed, the man turned away to look again at his calculations.  But at that moment, the creature stirred, and raised a hand from the fluids in which it soaked.  Frankenstein had created life from death -- his creature did live!

Karen: Ploog does a tremendous job with the use of lighting/shadows to cultivate the mood. Also, it would have been very easy to utilize imagery from the Universal Frankenstein films, which likely were familiar to him, but he shies from this. If anything, the tank reminds me of some of the Hammer films -which would have been much more recent.

Doug:  Frankenstein was at first bursting with pride, but that increased pulse rate slowly melded itself to fear.  For the creation stepped toward him, and those menacing yellow eyes stared into Frankenstein's -- for this was no creation to celebrate, but now a monster to fear!  Fleeing, Frankenstein locked himself in his quarters, and fell exhausted onto his bed.  But suddenly, hours later, he sat bolt upright, his mind racing with the events he'd unleashed.  And there, standing right over his bed, was the Monster.  But artist Mike Ploog gives us the reader quite a different take on this scene than that perceived by Victor Frankenstein -- Ploog's Monster, while tall and strong, has a sympathetic, inquisitive face, as that of a child.  But Frankenstein doesn't see it that way and lashes out with a wooden chair.  In the melee the chair is shattered against the Monster and a large candlestick is reduced to a lump -- and we are told that the creature is fully 8-feet tall with the strength of ten men!

Karen: Of course, sympathy for the Monster is key to the story, in any version. The Monster is the unwanted child, completely rejected by his parent. Frankenstein's reaction seems so unwarranted. I think they did a nice job on the Monster too. They manage to avoid copying any movie version but still make a memorable Monster. And the yellow eyes are pure Shelley.

Doug:  I think Ploog has made a nice contribution to the pantheon of Monsters.  Victor Frankenstein fled out into the rainy night where he collapsed once again, and sleep encompassed him.  In the morning his best friend Clerval found him, and nursed him back to health over the next several weeks.  But it was to sad news that Frankenstein awakened -- his brother William had been killed by their father's ward, Justine.  Frantic from his own troubles, Victor nonetheless went to his father.  Victor was overcome with guilt at his creation, and paranoia as to its whereabouts.  As he entered his father's home he was greeted by his Elizabeth.  Briefed on the crimes that had occurred, he hypothesized about the events.  He wondered if Justine could have been framed, and the spectre of the Monster surrounded his thoughts.  But what truly consumed Victor Frankenstein was the paradox that he could save Justine from certain death, yet indict himself for the creation of the Monster at the same time.  No, that wouldn't do...  But what would win out?  His conscience or his fear?

 Karen: Frankenstein lets Justine die, which is a big clue who the real monster of the story is.

Doug:  On the day Justine was hanged, Victor Frankenstein left to hike into the Alps.  Seeking refuge from the horrible reality he'd created, he climbed higher and higher.  And when he stopped to rest, building a fire within a cave, his nightmare caught him -- the Monster was at the mouth.  The Monster had come to judge Victor Frankenstein, to punish him for crimes against nature.  Frankenstein, now frantic, lunged at the Monster with a torch, burning him about the neck.  He quickly obtained his rifle and put a bullet into the creature; but in bringing life to death, Victor Frankenstein had created a sort of unlife that was now an engine of destruction.  Lifting Frankenstein off his feet, the Monster held him high and affirmed who was now the master.  And the Monster began to tell Frankenstein a story...

Karen: The encounter is well done.The Monster is in the "costume" he'd wear through-out his Marvel career, one obviously inspired by the fur-vest look of Son of Frankenstein. The Monster's self-hatred is evident, and personally I don't feel an ounce of sympathy for Victor!

Doug:  The Monster, as I first "met" him, was rendered by Sal Buscema and Dave Cockrum in the "Celestial Madonna" storyline in the pages of the Avengers; so once he shows up in his furry vest, I felt right at home with him.  Back to the present of 1898, Walton stopped in the midst of the narrative.  Suddenly one of the sailors burst into his quarters with news that while the ship had set sail, a terrible storm was blowing in.  Walton ordered all hands on deck to fight the winds; but sensing that it was too much, Walton ordered that the sails be cut.  It was at that moment that the crew mutinied.  And not another moment later, one of the masts broke free.  Ordering his crew to safety in spite of their black hearts, it was Walton in a cruel twist of fate who was crushed beneath the tumbling log.  As the ship tosses on the raging sea, the huge block of ice down in Walton's cabin begins to slide.  To one side, near the stove, and then back.  But when the ship lurches hard, the ice slides strongly against the stove while a lantern topples on top of it.  And the huge block of ice begins to melt away rapidly, revealing a chalky-white hand... that moves.

Doug:  Wow -- this was as good as any of the Classics Illustrated I used to read in the school library when I was a junior high guy.  I was thoroughly engrossed by Friedrich's script.  Obviously Frankenstein, the Monster, Frankenstein's first obsession then paranoia... all are metaphors for societal conditions and ills. Mike Ploog's art was perfect for this sort of story.  I remarked to Karen in an email a couple of weeks ago when we were setting this up that Ploog's pencils seemed reminiscent of the Atlas work of Kirby, Ditko, and Heck.  Maybe it was the coloring of the Marvel Firsts that gave the art a heavy feel, but it seemed perfect for Friedrich's words.  Good stuff!

Karen: Agreed! I've been slowly tracking down issues of this title. But now I really want all of them!


Doug said...

Filed under "Do milestones really matter?", today's fare is the 350th comic book reviewed on the Bronze Age Babies!


Edo Bosnar said...

Whoa - 350th anniversary review! You should have done a special double-sized post, with special features and pin-ups at the end, and ... okay, I'll stop now.
As for the topic at hand, I'll just say I'm really tempted to get the Frankenstein Essentials volume. I remember being a bit disappointed that this series wasn't just stuffed into one of the Essential Marvel Horror volumes (both of which I ended up getting anyway). Also, I completely agree with Karen about Ploog. His work on Man-Thing was also outstanding, and he really seemed to be the go-to guy at Marvel for their horror titles.

Inkstained Wretch said...

Yeah, Ploog was really underrated. His work here has a "Classics Illustrated feel that really suits the material.

The problem with these kind of continuing horror stories is where do they go once they get past the origin? The later-day Universal films are kind of fun but increasingly hokey and redundant. Same with the Hammer films.

I know a lot people say Tomb of Dracula is great, but I've never really cracked that one... even though I have the first volume of Essentials, so there's no excuse...

Doug said...

Inkstained --

The good Count is on the docket for next Monday; stay tuned! And in answer to your question about "where to go?", I thought (specifically in regard to the Monster) that his incorporation into the "Celestial Madonna" and that MTU with Spidey showed some promise for at least a partial integration into the Marvel Universe. The B&W mags were tailor-made for the horror genre, weren't they?

Back to milestones, and I've said this a bazillion times in the past -- that Karen and I write this blog makes me read comics. Before we started this sort of thing over four years ago, I would go months and months without reading comics. I think part of that was due to the new stuff just increasingly piled around, with no joy in even looking inside what I'd just purchased. But now, the joy is back, and I look forward to prepping for our reviews, tandem and solo!


Fred W. Hill said...

I only got one issue of Monster of Frankenstein, I think issue 7, still set circa 1898 (hmm, and that wasn't long after the first publication of Bran Stoker's Dracula). Based on the bits included here, I might yet seek out more issues of this short-lived series, mainly due to Ploog's compelling, distinctive art.
I think a problem of transforming the basic concept into an ongoing, successful series, especially in 1973, were finding a way to make him not appear as a faint echo of the Hulk or Swamp Thing series, a monster constantly on the run from people who fear or hate him and from a society in which he cannot really ever fit. Alan Moore realized that for the revived Swamp Thing to avoid being cancelled again, he had to get his protagonist out of the "monster on the run, trying to restore his lost humanity" rut. Frankie, of course, was well aware of his situation and knew he could not be "restored" to humanity. Well, of course, Mel Brooks found a way to make Frankie fit in with great comedic results, but could something similar have worked in a dramatic series, set in either the past or the present, and still keep the series going? As it was, MOF was the shortest lived of Marvel's monster comics, at least of those that got their own self-titled series. Maybe the series would have lasted longer if it had been unleashed with the same creators about 15 years later as a Vertigo title, with less need for slam-dunk action and more on this ultimate outsider's efforts to find a place for himself in the world.

Karen said...

Inkstained: It's always seemed like a real shame to me that after Karloff quit playing the Monster, the poor thing became a mindless robot, almost just a prop in some of those films. Even in Son of Frankenstein, the Monster exhibits some personality. But especially during the Glenn Strange films, he's just a brainless brute.

humanbelly said...

Which really is too bad, because Glenn always looked GREAT as the monster-- but he just wasn't given a shred of shattered humanity to work with, you're right.

(There's an outake reel on a recent release of "Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein". . . and in the scene where Lou's inadvertantly sitting on the monster's lap, he completely causes Glenn to break up. . . and there was something inexplicably poignant about seeing that massive, scarred, square visage break out in a grin and then a laugh. . . )


Steve Does Comics said...

Fred W. Hill's right. 1898 was one year after Dracula came out. It was also just three years after Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was published, two years after The Invisible Man came out and three years before The Hound of the Baskervilles was unleashed. It might be that Frankenstein's monster was moved to that late Victorian time-frame to enable possible meetings between him and those other characters.

Bob said...

Very good review, Doug and Karen. Thanks so much. A few interesting points... although cover dated January 1973, this issue actually came out at the end of October 1972, so this is a 40th anniversary review! I actually remeber buying this book off the stands, but I remember not buying it right away since at this time Marvel was putting out a lot of number one issues (I waited a few weeks...). But I did not regret buying it. About Ploog's artwork, I agree that it was excellent. By this time he had developed into a very good artist. His first Marvel work was just a year earlier(1971) in the first Werewolf by Night in Marvel Spotlight, and that was a bit crude, but he got really good quite fast. If I remember correctly, Ploog drew the first 6 issues of MoF, and they were all excellent. Then 7-9 were drawn by John Buscema and I believe Dracula was in there somewhere. I seem to recall after that there was a change of artists, and I dropped the book. I heard that they brought the Monster into the 20th Century, but I never read that, and I guess that did not work out well since the book was cancelled. I do recall that there was a less than great Marvel Team-Up issue with Spider-Man and the Monster (not a great idea...). If you haven't read MoF 2-6, I highly recommend that you read them; they were quite good.

lordjim6 said...

Brilliant review!!! I'm a long time lurker, and I figured it was time to join the community! Karen, you should check out Essential Monster of Frankenstein! I have it, and it's wonderful! It contains the entire series, as well as the monster's entire run of black and white Marvel adventures. I'm a huge fan of Marvel horror from the 70's, so I'm really going to be looking forward to the next few mondays! Can I suggest a character? How about Straw Man? He was at first called Scarecrow, but that was changed since Marvel already had a character by that name... He only was in three issues during the 70's, but he's sensational!!!! Trust me, you won't regret checking him out!!!

Doug said...

Jim --

Thanks for stepping to the fore! Karen and I know we have literally hundreds of "lurkers" who stop by daily. Lately, several have chosen to "go public", and we really appreciate this.

So, for your big reveal, thanks! And don't be a stranger any longer.



Related Posts with Thumbnails